Hagfish: things that make you go eew

Hagfish encased in slime

I was recently introduced to the Pacific hagfish, a little known creature that inhabits mud on the ocean floor near Baja California all the way up the coast to Alaska. This was one of the many creatures caught on the Cabrillo Aquarium’s “Catalina Above and Below” trip off Los Angeles’ coast. As you can tell from the picture, hagfish aren’t necessarily the best looking fish, they definitely won’t be winning any beauty contests. But they are excellent contenders for the ocean’s version of a carnival. “Step up and see the hagfish…a creepy, blind, eel-shaped fish that mass produces slime!”

The amount of slime a hagfish produces is truly impressive. As soon as hagfish were placed in the holding tanks on the boat they started producing slime like their lives depended on it. According to the scientists on the boat, it’s not understood what this slime is for. Dr. Milton Love, author of Probably More Than You Want to Know About the Fishes of the Pacific Coast, backs this up in his book and also is impressed by their slime output. “Your average hagfish can take a bucket full of water and almost solidify it with slime in a few minutes. And this is quality slime too; entirely different from the sad, gooey stuff other fishes produce.”

I have to say it was quality slime because it was thick, yet didn’t goo up your hands. After touching it my hand just felt like it had gotten wet, there was no need to rush off to the bathroom to wash it off. It was also clear, yet thick. To me it was perfectly constructed, way better than the play goop you can buy in a store. Hagfish slime allows you to be completely grossed out by touching it, yet no gooey mess.

According to Dr. Love, hagfish “appear to be most abundant in perhaps 250-1,200 feet.” Yet, very little is known about these fish. They’ve been found burrowing into fish that are trapped and Love says “it is likely that they also feed on small invertebrates.” Size wise, they can grow to be 25 inches long.

The skin of hagfish feels really soft in a pleasant sort of way, yet I was still shocked to find out that hagfish are fished and turned into purses and wallets. Apparently, nothing is sacred in the ocean, not even the bizarre, carnival ready hagfish, which isn’t good considering how little we know about them.


  1. J Napoli says

    I love the fact that nobody knows why the hagfish produces slime. It just does, and that’s beautiful. Like anything else people don’t understand, they find a way to make a wallet out of it.

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